Published 2 October 1994 Style Magazine 66th article
Stalled: Winner in Paris (Vanessa Perry)
I am beginning to think going to the Plaza Athenee in Paris is a bad habit. Like picking your nose or biting your fingernails. I was taken there many years ago by a wonderful film publicist called Robert Beerman of Columbia Pictures. We were promoting a movie and with Bob there to see things were fine, they were. I kept going later, even when paying for myself, though I recall vividly the sight of two ghastly, curled, hard-bread sandwiches turning up one night when I arrived with Miss Seagrove.
Recently I asked for a suite I'd had before, with a nice balcony overlooking the garden. When I got there I was shown into something different. "The two top floors are shut," explained Miss Pinconnet, the assistant manager. "They were shut when I was here four years ago," I said. "Then it was the slump, what is it now?" I settled for a gloomy suite on the fifth. Actually, trouble had started earlier. "Could I have a convertible rental car when I arrive at 8.30pm?" I asked Mr Cailotto of guest relations. "No," he said. It is relevant that my modest suite and the car together cost £1,200 a day! For that you might reasonably expect service!
"Why can't I have the car at 8.30pm?" I asked Mr Cailotto. "Because the Hertz office shuts at seven," he said. "Mr Cailotto," I said patiently (I'm always at my worst when I'm patient), "this is not Siberia, this is not Sarajevo, this is not Omsk, this is Paris, a major capital city."
This is speech 23B which I use on such occasions. "If I can get a car at 8.30pm in Barbados, supposedly, but not, a backward country, or Rome, or Nice, why not in Paris? Would you please try." Maybe he tried, maybe he didn't, but the end result was: "You can have the car at 8.30 in the morning, not on the night you arrive." At 8.30am the next day I called the concierge. "My car there?" I asked cheerfully. "No, weren't you going to pick it up from the Hertz office last night?" I was not pleased. Eventually and late the car arrived, a bright red, cheerful Audi convertible.
The day passed without incident, although I have always found the front-of-house staff desperately snooty and not very efficient.
At 11.45pm I walked back from the theatre. My car now had the automatic hood up, but with the rear, hinged metal case, which encloses the hood and should have been shut, up in the air like a batmobile.
It blocked the rear window. The car was undriveable. "Who did that?" I asked of the concierge. "There was a little rain, we put the top up," he explained. "The rain was at 9pm for a quarter of an hour, that was some time ago," I said. "Can we get the car so it can be driven?" Hotel staff poured all over it, pressing buttons, pulling, pushing. Nothing worked.
I phoned Miss Pinconnet. "I understand there was something wrong with your car," she said. "There's nothing wrong with my car," I said. "There's something wrong with your staff." "What did you expect us to do?" asked Miss Pinconnet. "The car was not built by a mad professor who fled to the Himalayas," I replied. "It has a name on it. You could have phoned an Audi garage and got them to fix it." "Ah," said Miss Pinconnet.
"Supposing I had come back at 9.15 and wanted to drive it?" "Oh," said Miss Pinconnet. "I suggest you get it driveable by morning," I ended. They phoned the Hertz people and it was.
Did I find anything good about the Plaza Athenee? Yes. The building's elegant. I only ate once, then in the Relais Plaza, the snackier bit. It was good, even if Vanessa didn't get what she ordered. There was no waste basket in the bedroom and the TV handset didn't work. But it does have the Winner World Record for room service. The breakfast arrived 2 minutes and 51 seconds after I put the phone down from ordering it. That's about double the time I'd take to fire the entire management if I were in charge.
I was incensed to read last week's letter from Sandra Brownstone who claims that her lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons was spoiled by a lady breast-feeding her baby at the next table. Surely this lady was only "in full view of everyone" if everyone chose to watch what she was doing. Perhaps she is one of those diners who prefers to keep her eyes on neighbouring tables. To describe breast-feeding as "this behaviour" implies it is in some way deviant. Having breast-fed both my children as discreetly as possible if in a public place, I must write in protest at her intolerant attitude. Why should mothers and babies have to remove to separate facilities to breast-feed?
Catherine Cox, Sheffield
I am sorry to hear that Mrs Brownstone of Edgware was put off her breast of chicken at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. To me, however, the sight of a mother nursing her baby is a beautiful one. Dirty cutlery, a smoky atmosphere and possibly the high-pitched scream of a hungry baby would put me off my meal.
Lucinda Roszczyk, Reading